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Parent-teacher conferences won't be restored after all

The Medford School Board decided Wednesday that restoring parent-teacher conferences would not be feasible in this calendar year.

The district cut the three days allocated to parent-teacher conferences in 2011 because of budget constraints. Earlier this year, district officials surveyed parents and teachers to find out whether they wanted those conferences back.

Ninety-two percent of the 1,310 parents and 90 percent of the 340 teachers who responded to the survey voted in favor of reinstating parent-teacher conferences.

Parent-teacher conferences also were a topic of discussion during the teacher negotiations earlier this year and had been recommended by former Superintendent Phil Long in his message to the budget committee on May 6.

But later that month, the board adopted the 2014-15 calendar of 175 instructional days, and none was earmarked for parent-teacher conferences.

“I think it was an oversight,” said School Board member Sally Killen. “I think we were just focusing on where to put the snow days.”

On Wednesday, at the board’s annual retreat, board members and new Superintendent Brian Shumate determined they would not add back the parent-teacher conferences because doing so would mean either losing classroom instruction time or revisiting the teachers’ contract.

“I think we should scrap the conferences this year,” said board member Larry Nicholson. “I certainly don’t want to have any discussion with the union about changing the contract.”

The board only recently approved a labor contract with teachers, which included 190 contract days.

Although the state considers parent-teacher conferences to be “instructional time,” no one on the board wanted to forfeit the time kids spend in the classroom learning, said board Chairman Jeff Thomas.

“Next year, Brian (Shumate) will  work with MEA (Medford Education Association) before the calendar is adopted to determine how we are going to make parent-teacher conferences happen if we are going to make them happen,” Thomas said.

Board members discussed revisiting the adopted calendar but decided they did not want to get in the habit of changing things they had already approved.

Parents and teachers expressed in the survey that they wanted face-to-face time to discuss grades, homework and student behavior.

Cheryl Lashley, president of the teachers' union, said teachers “definitely wanted them back.”

The 20- to 30-minute conferences allowed teachers to connect with parents and hear what they perceived their students’ strengths to be and to communicate how the parents could be involved in the learning process.

“(The conferences) were the only face-to-face time you got with some parents,” Lashley said.

When Lashley learned the district would not be adding back the conferences this year, she said she was “flabbergasted.”

“I’m disappointed that they were not able to figure out a way to get conferences back, since that’s what the teachers wanted and what our parents and students needed,” she said.

Shumate said he would like to form a calendar committee to look at how the contracted days are used for student instruction, professional development and things such as parent-teacher conferences.

"The board adopted a calendar, and I want to stick to that," he said. "What I've inherited is a calendar that does not include parent-teacher conferences. That doesn't mean I don't value them."

Reach reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.